This month of our 30th anniversary year, we are talking about independence and what it means for people with spinal cord injury. Here, Will Clark, who has been living with spinal cord injury since 2012, writes about the impact of the accident on his independence.
Four years ago, I was left permanently paralysed during a charity cycle ride. I was 27. I grew up in the Lake District and loved being active. I was driven and incredibly competitive. I enjoyed university in Sheffield and had lived in the Alps, travelled Asia, worked in New Zealand and sold ski holidays in London.
It was a great week leading up to my accident: a strong finish in a race and promotion to Hotel Manager where I was working. It was also the first year anniversary with my girlfriend, I had two days in Edinburgh booked and had future plans.
The swim went well but during the cycle it was noticeable there was a lot of debris on the road. I jumped the first stick and landed on the second. Before I knew it, I was in mid air looking at the concrete thinking, that looks hard. My helmet took much of the impact. My local GP, who was supporting the event was there within minutes. He had over 30 years experience but was white as a sheet. I knew it was serious. Welcome to the world of spinal injury…
I was airlifted to Newcastle then transferred to Middlesbrough for almost 6 months of rehabilitation. Adjusting to life at home was tough and an anti-climax.
In the early days following my accident, support from my family made a massive difference. I wanted to know what was still possible. Spinal cord injury was unknown for my family and the nurses just told me that things would be different. Around this time, my mum found information regarding Back Up and its mentoring service.
My mum asked for someone who would have a positive impact on my life – they put me in touch with Andy. He was honest and got me thinking about doing things differently.
While I was in high dependency and still ventilated, Andy was leading a course in Cumbria. He rang me from the top of Latrigg. It was great to hear that he was on top of one the fells I used to run up. I was up there before the year end.
I was fortunate to move into a newly built adapted flat. Friends and the local community helped me to raise money for equipment that would have been otherwise unaffordable.
The team around me are all local and live out. I call them my team rather than carers, as they are all a similar age with similar interests to me.They do what needs doing and then I can get on with my day.
I would rather not have to rely on them but they make things possible.
I massively miss my old life but in this new life, I have raised £12,500 for the Air Ambulance charity and completed the Great North Run. I talked in schools about spinal cord injury and have mentored someone in a similar situation. I met some friends through Back Up, I helped in my local primary school and I’ve also started looking at local accessibility with the National Trust.
As a regular Calvert Trust volunteer, I met Prince Charles. I also featured in national press playing Fifa on the PS3 with my chin and shoulders. I am working on accessible Lakes map. I have also recited poetry on the One Show.
People keep telling me that I’m inspirational and I just ask them: “What would you do in my position?” It hasn’t been easy and there are challenges on a daily basis. The key to everything is to keep busy and keep pushing myself forward.
People say it’s still early days for me but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t want everything now. So what next? A tandem paraglide and Back Up’s Belfast City Skills course.
Inspired by Will’s story? Do you want to rebuild your confidence and independence? Join us on a Back Up course